By Debra Kate Schafer
If a film is full of Hollywood’s biggest stars, historically accurate (for the most part), aesthetically pleasing and has a killer soundtrack, it’s hard not to love it.
Directed by Quentin Tarintino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” creates a narrative that not only brings its audience back to the 1960s by not only morphing fantasy with reality, but also by using true moments and real people in history to create a feeling of nostalgia, convey a message of distortion and interpret a specific period of time, as well as its corresponding, life-changing events.
With a runtime of two hours and 45 minutes, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” follows a multitude of silver-screen stars of the 1960s. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a fictional western actor whose backwater cowboy television show has just come to a close, leaving him as an aged-out character actor, trying to find work and break the mold that he has created for himself over time.
His stunt double and right hand man, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is also struggling to find work and make his mark in the impending new age of Hollywood, albeit in a much different way than Dalton. What Dalton has, aside from enough money to drive sports cars and live in Studio City, is celebrity status and notoriety due to his time as the lead of a hit television show. He craves to get back that level of fame and adoration from both the industry and his fans. Booth, on the other hand, is an aging stunt double. All he wants is a job that will pay him enough money to feed his dog and keep his trailer heated.
The first storyline surrounds the fictional duo as they come into contact with various well-knowns from the real world, such as Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino), Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis), Tex Watson (Austin Butler) and Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) ?— some of the biggest names, or soon to be biggest names, in the media during this time in history. They serve as portrayals of the real people and events of 1969, while Dalton and Booth are interspersed into that narrative to bring a real point in time to life on screen decades later.
The second storyline tells of the genuine, heartbreaking and mind boggling story of the Manson Family Murders. Tarintino uses the fictitious characters and their subsequent backstories to showcase a very specific time and place in history and convey the real-life tale that both manipulated and haunted a generation.
After watching “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” the first time, I had quite a few thoughts on what unfolded in front of my eyes, none of which were truly negative. I will always appreciate a good shot of Pitt driving a convertible through downtown Los Angeles while listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” which can only be seconded by a 10-year-old starlet like Julia Butters putting DiCaprio into his place with just her honest, youthful wit. Not to mention that the palm-tree-lined streets of sunny Los Angeles are draped in an authentic aura of cinematic psychedelia, with Tarintino strategically placing young hippies hitchhiking in homemade tye dye outfits and classic out-of-production vehicles zooming by in the background of intricately color graded scenes.
However, after seeing the film a second time, reading a bit deeper into the history of the transformative subplots and having some lengthy discussions about the film with friends who had also seen it, I’ve come to the conclusion that the film is quite fantastic. This is not in the “commercial movie meets indie cinematic genius” way, but in a “there’s a story to tell and we’re gonna find a thrilling way to tell it” type of experience.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” encapsulates a defining era and a very specific moment in time through differing, yet highly intertwined storylines. There is heart, meaning, brutality and so much truth found within the characters, both written into the story and based on real people. It is historical fiction at it’s finest.